Here is what Kentucky coach John Calipari had to say after Thursday night’s win over Stony Brook that puts UK into the second round against Indiana Saturday.
Q. John, when did you feel like they were starting to settle in and starting to play the way you felt like they were capable of playing?
JOHN CALIPARI: You know, we were good enough defensively that we just need to do make a couple baskets, couple shots and get it to 19 or 20 and figure out what we were.
But, you know, we were — we had the opening game jitters, which is normal. We start three freshmen, you know, Alex has not been one of those guys that starts some of these games that way. So we did what we did. But I liked the fact that we came back in the second half. Derek Willis was what he was. Jamal played better in the second half. Isaiah, and, again, he rebounds the ball. At the end, I wanted him to just solely play the point guard. He was throwing the ball all over the place. I said, what are you doing? Just played a great game, one of the your best games of the year and you’re losing your mind right now! He’s a great kid. He’s right. He wants to win. That’s the one thing you know. I like him to rebound free throws both offensively and defensively more than I do anyone else on my team. He goes and gets balls and does whey what he’s supposed to do.
Q. How encouraging is it that Skal was as active as he was at both ends?
JOHN CALIPARI: It was good. Still got into, you know, where he worried more about the physicality than grabbing the ball, and I had to take him out a couple times. Just go get rebounds. You start pushing on a 6-5 guy and you can’t go get the ball, so he’s still learning. What he needs to zero in on is keep shooting jump hooks. We didn’t need to see your step-through block dunk. We didn’t need to see that. Especially after you just made a jump hook and those 15-footers that he can make.
He blocked some shots today — he’s really — this has been a hard go for him, but I tell you, he’s making strides. This team is. The one thing I told them afterwards, it’s not just about being consistent. You’ve got to keep growing throughout this tournament.
So let’s take what we learned from this game and let’s build on it a little bit. It’s not just playing consistent, it’s getting better. I thought they played and had fun playing. But that’s what I want them to do. I want them to go out there and have more fun playing than any team in this tournament.
Q. At Kentucky you guys probably have — you create more NBA players than any other school in the country. So from your perspective looking at Jameel Warney, do you think he’s NBA caliber player?
JOHN CALIPARI: Yeah, but he’s — if he’s on the right team there is a premium on rebounding in that league and I will tell you that the respect we had for him we never played him one-on-one. Think about that. The guys that have watched me coach know that very rarely do we do that. Like, we just don’t play that way.
So we did today. We were not — I said this kid could go for 40 against us, so let’s not let him get going. I thought Alex did a great job of trapping, and Skal did a great job of making shots tough and he still got 23 points. He still got 23. I’m losing my mind. The kid at Drexel that played — was with the Spurs, see, we got no basketball people in this room who is it? We got no —
Q. Malik Rose?
JOHN CALIPARI: There you go, Malik Rose. But he’s a little bit bigger, probably doesn’t shoot it as well as Malik and one of the things he will probably have to do is prove he can make 15, 17-footers. But he’s a great kid and works hard and you can tell so proud of being a part of that, basically bringing Stony Brook into what it is today.
Q. Playing Indiana on Saturday, thoughts on them, a rivalry game obviously here not even out of the first weekend?
JOHN CALIPARI: Every game you play in this tournament is like a rivalry game. Everybody is going to play with high energy. I said after the game, my opinion, Crean is the National Coach of the Year for what he did. It’s not that they won the league. It’s that he had his best or one of his best — Yogi is probably his best player, but one of his best players out for the year and they had to adjust to how they play. What he’s done with that team in that league is incredible. He’s got a terrific passing team, a terrific shooting team, an attacking team.
You know, it’s kinda unfortunate that this game is being played this early. This should be another round or two later. But it is what it is, so both of us are going to have to play. Tom knows the respect I have for him as a coach and as a leader and what he does. They’re really, really good. Like today they were really good.
Q. Cal, by your standards how good was the defense tonight?
JOHN CALIPARI: It was pretty good. And, again, to be able to hold a team like we did and block the shots and do the stuff that we did, you know, follow a game plan, which this team has struggled with at times. They did — our shoot-arounds are better. Our game planning is better. You know, they know things are at stake now.
But, again, I’m trying to tell them stay in the moment, don’t worry about — I’m telling them don’t watch any other games because they don’t matter to us, the only game that mattered was what did Indiana do and all we have to worry about now is Indiana, I don’t care whatever team wins or loses does not matter to me. And I’m trying to get them in that frame of mind and then say, let’s be really focused. Let’s have great preparation and play. If we’re not good enough against Indiana it’s been a heck of a year. If we are good enough we move on to the next weekend.
Q. John, you talk every year about you want your team to have fun at the end of the year and have the most fun of any team, but is that especially important with this team or not?
JOHN CALIPARI: You know what, John, it probably is, and it is because guys can be a little fragile at times. What I’m trying to get them to do is coach each other because when I coach them sometimes they look at me like deer in the headlights like, oh, my God!
So I’m trying to coach less even though I got on guys pretty hard today. But I got on them we were at 30. I didn’t get on them early in the game. I let them play through it. But when we were up 30 and they were screwing around, I got them. If you ever watch Tyler on the court and I’m laughing and he’s laughing, it’s because I’m saying, coaching stuff is not easy, is it? They don’t do, do they? And he starts laughing and I start laughing because I’m trying to get him to coach this team more so I can coach less.
Q. (No microphone).
JOHN CALIPARI: It’s mostly that. It’s mostly that. Like, did you tell him to — and he says, yeah, he didn’t do it. I said how do you like that coaching? Coaching is fun, isn’t it? But he broke John Wall’s record today for assists which is an incredible thing when you think of John Wall and John Wall played a few more games now. He’s had a Player of the Year, National Player of the Year season, he really has. He’s led a young team. We struggled early. Struggled because of two things. One we lost seven players to the NBA. Then we struggled because we had injuries. Alex was injured. Derek was injured. Dom was injured. We were injured! We didn’t have a full complement of players, and on top of that we’re starting three freshmen. So it’s been a great ride and these kids are getting better and we’ll see if we can keep this thing going.
Q. What does it say about Jamal that struggled with his shot in the first half and get it going in the second?
JOHN CALIPARI: Wasn’t just struggle, he made the wrong decisions, like he should have thrown a lob. He ran a guy over. He missed a couple of easy bunnies. Things he hadn’t done. But, again, let’s chalk it up to kids never played in an NCAA Tournament game.
I bet you if you asked him he’s probably other than a national final probably hasn’t even watched the games in the NCAA, he didn’t even know what this is, like what’s the big deal? He came out in the second half I thought he played really well. He’s a great kid, I absolutely love coaching this kid. He’s going to be special and I’ll tell you why. He has the mental make-up that he’s never high, never low. He has the ability to score in bunches, ala Steph Curry, where you just let it go and that ball goes in. But he’s 6-5 and he’s got size with him. He’s a pretty good handler and a passer, so it’s been fun.
Q. I think it’s been roughly four years since the Indiana rivalry was discontinued from your perspective. Can you rehash why that happened?
JOHN CALIPARI: Um, I didn’t want to play home and home. I told them we would play two years in Indianapolis if you want. I didn’t want to play home and home. I didn’t want to go there, and they didn’t want to have to come to us. So that ended the series.
Q. I think that 15 blocks is an NCAA Tournament record.
THE MODERATOR: That is correct.
JOHN CALIPARI: Is it a record for Kentucky or a record record?
Q. It’s a record and it breaks Kentucky’s record from ’98 for title team?
JOHN CALIPARI: You know they had 11 — no, that was the ’96 team that had 11 first-round draft picks.
Q. But for a team that’s just figuring it out, does that get you excited to think about?
JOHN CALIPARI: It’s kinda neat. It’s nice to be able to be on that team and say, hey, we broke a record.